Just when you thought it was safe….

….to think about spring, you receive a stern message from nature that you have never been in charge! We’ve had a few days that have teased us into beliving we were all about spring. Neighbors rushed into their yards. I could hear blowers, I could see folks leaning into borders and those with rakes and wheelbarrows, filling them with sticks and leaf debris, and finally our landscape company spent two days mulching much of our neighborhood “common ground” and “living fence” area.

But today we are back indoors wondering whether our outdoor garden frenzy was just an illusion. It feels bitterly cold again… back to the 20’s and we’re hunkered down in our fleeces with a fire in the fireplace. Sigh….

These tulips bloomed indoors and I thought they would look better in the garden…. the only thing in bloom.  The bunny loves the leaves!

tulips

Our fabulous, rich 50/50 mix of fine mulch and organic compost was applied to sections of the garden. Fingers crossed for this new Russian sage/Allium border. Right now the tulips are beginning to unfurl and the tips of the daffodils are breaking through the ground. I didn’t pick up the Russian sage snippings because the robins are doing that for me!

April 13, 2018

robins with Russian sage 2018

I loved having the three days  in the garden… cutting back ornamental grasses, lightly pruning woody plants, especially our borders of paniculata limelight hydrangeas, thatching the lawn, edging borders, planting pansies, transplanting shrubs..including one to a neighbor’s home. The first early days of spring in the garden are such a charge.

Now we wait. Soon a truckload of mulch should be delivered to a central spot in the neighborhood and homeowners and their wheelbarrows will rush to retrieve what we need for the rest of our gardens. It’s a good plan and I’m primed for more garden jollies whether it’s in snow, rain or sleet!

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote….

April has arrived! As Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales prologue, with April comes the sweet showers that bathe and strengthen the roots of plants. We’ve had a couple of days of good rains followed by temperatures that seemed warm enough to drag out the lounge chairs and hammocks… but not really. I’ve seen young folks shed layers and prance around in shorts and sleeveless shirts but the old folks like me still wear a layer of two of protection from chill of the “sweete breeth,” or sweet breath of the West Winds. This morning I rolled out of bed with a temperature of 30° and with new frost on the landscape to greet me. I left my greenhouse pansies outside overnight and, thankfully, they seemed unfazed by the icy temperatures. PansyThe snow is retreating and I can finally see most of what survived the record snowfalls and what did not and what was damaged and what can be salvaged. With the ground fairly frozen a few inches beneath the surface, it’s too soon to get down and dirty in the garden but there is a lot I can do now…. like taking care of dead and broken limbs. My tiny plants covered by frost covered glasses seemed to do the trick for tiny late season cuttings and plantings.Summersweet, my clethra, mostly laid on the ground during the winter storms. I will need to wade into this thicket and overhaul it…. a shrub that was definitely planted in the wrong location in a prominent foundation spot because it is so darn late to leaf out. But I could never part with the plant because of its insect loving and sweet smelling blooms. Clethra alnifoliaAll of my summer rootings of Tide Hill boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Tide Hill’) survived beneath 8′ of snow… well-insulated against the cold. The three parent plants did well, too, although the leaves were chilled this morning with tiny hoar frost. Tide Hill box hoar frost on Tide Hill boxHappy to see that my fall planted Pieris Japonica is greeting the season with zero damage. Not a native, however I love this plant with its drooping clusters of early spring flowers. This is a good foundation plant. Pieris japonicaSadly, I found damage and loss. The new Dwarf Hinoki Cypress lost its beautiful fern-like top branches to the weight of the snow. But, whew, this Japanese ornamental can be salvaged. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’The new 5′ female blue maid holly has some winter burn, but the male blue holly, much smaller, survived intact sheltered beneath the blanket of snow. Ilex x meserveae 'blue maid' Blue Prince hollyAzaleas took a hit. Azalea… along with several yews and arborvitae that either split, fell, leaned or all three. We can’t tell if this one can be saved yet. damaged Buried deep within the iceberg  is a border of viburnum, hydrangea, dwarf deutzia, dwarf clethra, upright holly (Steeds), soft touch holly (Ilex crenata), and more. Tips of our steeds holly are beginning to appear at the base of the iceberg below. I just hope the branches I see are from the bottom of the plant, not the top!

Steeds holly beginning to show

Steeds Holly

Perhaps by next week with more of Chaucer’s sweet April showers and warmer winds with 60° temperatures in the forecast, we can evaluate the damage beneath.

Love is in the air

Spring is upon us and suddenly the woods are alive with avian romance. White-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos that have kept us company throughout the winter have have migrated north and we welcome back songbirds that spend half their lives elsewhere. Seeds and suet, rich in protein, were ready for their arrival to provide the energy they need.

Two mated pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks recently arrived from their winter in Panama and northern South America and are being well-fed at separate feeders.

Two male ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived a week ago and each claimed a different feeder as his own. They fuss across the branches but no fights yet… and, sigh, no lady loves either. It may take a week or two before the females arrive. Instead of hovering and guarding their food, they spend time staking out the best territory for breeding and sit high in the treetops as if scouting for the arrival of the first female. Then the fights may begin.

One male is very approachable and will hover inches from me each time I drag out the hose to water the baby grass or fill the birdbath. All he wants is a nice mist shower. I follow him to a branch where he flaps his wings and washes every feather for at least 5 minutes.

Male Ruby Throated HummingbirdOne of my favorite bird species, the gray catbird, is now frequenting the feeding area, flitting here and there, in a shrub, on a limb, running across the ground, on the suet, and then the feeder. The pair is vocal, mewing and repeating the calls of a number of other birds, as they forage for insects and enjoy sunflower seeds. I added a ground water bath that they especially love.

gray catbird in the ground bathFour varieties of woodpeckers, all paired off, visit the suet along with pairs of nuthatches, titmouse, bluejays, and chickadees.

Whether watching plump mourning doves, two by two, pad quietly beneath the feeders looking for spilled seeds or the sweet affection of a male cardinal feeding his mate, we both agree that birdwatching is an amazing experience in the spring.

 

Abundant Sunshine

“Abundant sunshine” is the Yahoo Weather forecast for today. It is 39° this morning but temperatures will rise to an enjoyable 51° by noon before dropping back to 30° tonight. Forecast calls a welcome warming trend with temperatures pushing into the high 60s on one day early next week. There should not be a flake of snow left on the ground then.

Although we see wonderful signs of spring around the neighborhood like my friend’s crocus below, our home lingers in the shade of tall pines.

Crocus

Crocus blooming in the neighborhood

Where there is deep shade, there is snow. Yesterday I took matters into my own hands and helped some of my newly planted treasures see daylight for the first time in many months. I had no idea what I’d find under the crush of snow and ice but I knew there had to be damage. Plants will live but, darn that snow!

This southern gardener is learning about New England winters. Next fall, the holly below will be tied or wrapped in burlap to protect the shape of the upright growth.

Beneath the snowbank (below), I was most worried about three tiny boxwood I found nearby at Rolling Green Nursery. I fell hard for these dwarf Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Tide Hill’) that were described as ‘rugged.’ The weight of snow from the roof and from driveway and sidewalk clearing was severe in this border. I tried shoveling it off early in the season, but eventually I had to give up trying to minimize or prevent damage to stems. The snow came too fast and too often.

snow

Tide Mill BoxwoodOnce I located all three shrubs, of course I found crushing damage to the top of shrubs…which is sad as these plants only grow about a foot in height.

Thankfully, when handed lemons, my philosophy is to make the sweetest lemonade on the block. Box can be propagated! I carefully removed the stems that were broken, removed the bottom leaves, dipped the stems in a hormone solution, and I’m growing them in a potting mix. Instead of three dwarf boxwood, I should end up with 8 or 9 babies in about 8 weeks. Who knows? My new landscape plan is to have a full border of these most attractive dwarf boxwood.

Tide Hill

 

Winter Walk-Off 2014

I enjoy following Les over at A Tidewater Gardener. His garden and adventures are much appreciated links to my home state, Virginia. For the last few years, he’s challenged readers to a winter walk-off and it’s been fun to participate…. although winter is tougher in New Hampshire for a walk-off. I fully understand why the Eskimos have 50 different words for snow.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes.

A very common scene around here as folks shovel out their mailboxes following the snowplows.

I’ve been a little hesitant to walk in the snow after a series of falls that my sisters have suffered. Misfortune began on cobblestones in Paris when a sister slipped to her knees right in front of me. Result: a hairline fracture just below the knee. A second sister fell in England, breaking her arm. She was just recovering from surgery when my sister-in-law fell in her home, breaking her arm. The last victim was my youngest sister who fell while hiking in Maui a week ago, breaking both arms! Yes, she is sporting two casts. Now they say it’s my turn for a tumble. It ain’t gonna happen, girls!  When temperatures hit a mild 49° yesterday, it was a good day for a very basic winter walk-off.

We first passed a marsh of Phragmites australis that is rampant in New Hampshire’s seacoast area as it is in low-lying areas almost everywhere. It’s an invasive monoculture replacing cattails, but not entirely all bad according to Dr. Carl Hershner of Virginia Institute of Marine Science. I heard him state in a lecture that it can prevent shoreline erosion and create stability with a mass of roots that can go 6′ deep. It is attractive and full of birds on this day, but I’d rather see a marsh of cattails.

phragmitesTraveling on, we decided to drop in on our friend, John, a master carpenter who was hard at work in his workshop.

JohnJohn and his father built his two workshops beginning in 1955, working on them when time and funds were available, finishing it all in 1957. We could sit forever with John in his toasty workshop soaking in information and history of the area and just watching the master at his work. The atmosphere in the workshop takes you back in time, a better time, and I hope he never changes one thing inside.

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dogsWe continued along our slushy pathway passing only two people and 3 dogs along the way. As we trod along, we noticed a few interesting winter flora and we stayed on the lookout for signs of spring. The following is a sampling of what we saw:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Did you know that the U.S. Forest service recognizes this tree as the most common variety of tree in America? This lovely tree with red twigs, buds, flowers and fall foliage is one of the first plants to flower in the spring.

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Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

sumacBuds are quite small on hairy twigs that will soon grow into a small tree or upright shrub and expand into a colony along this trail. In the fall we are awed by the rich reds and scarlets of the leaves of this woody perennial.

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Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

red-twig dogwoodRed Osier Dogwood spreads by suckering, forming dense thickets and gives us amazing bright red stems in winter.

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Milkweed Pods

milkweekSeeds are spent from the pods of the common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Some folks collect these pods for craft projects.

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New England Aster

asterThese New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) have already offered their seeds up to birds. We hope to see new growth soon.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

queen anne's laceDried seed heads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) decorated the edge of the paths.

After about a 3-mile walk-off, we returned home… soaking wet socks but invigorated by the outing. And, guess what… no one fell down!

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Spring!

Today I was drawn to the pond by a symphony of music. I stood there for minutes searching for members of the orchestra but not one was visible. Yet I’m sure I was being watched by hundreds of tiny eyes, the eyes of spring peepers (Pseudarcris cruicer), the first species to begin calling each spring. Hidden well in the vegetation and silenced by my approach, the music began again after I took a quiet stance.

For weeks, all in Virginia have heard the shrill whistles from distant woods and ditches but the sound in our frog pond has reached a fever pitch. This all-male chorus of tiny frogs has an amazingly loud and high ‘peeping,’ all directed toward the fairer sex. The higher and faster a male can sound, the better his chances are of attracting a female of the species.

Peepers are good climbers but they prefer to be on the edge of ponds and marshy woodlands full of grasses, twigs, and shrubs.  From just above the water, trios of males form a chorus to compete for mating rights. These little frogs vary in size but on average they are just over an inch long and  are found in shades from brown, tan, olive, gray or a tinge of red. The belly is cream and the back is marked by the most distinguishing feature, a dark cross.

Most folks have a great affection for the spring peeper for they mark the awakening of spring and the renewal of life.  Winter is finally over.  Hallelujah!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester